Efforts to improve maternity care nationwide will be stepped up after a damning review found 45 babies may have survived with better care.
Women’s health minister Maria Caulfield said she was “deeply sorry” for the suffering of families affected by failures at East Kent hospitals.
She will lead a new oversight committee bringing together leading experts from the NHS and maternity groups to drive up standards.
In an official response to Dr Bill Kirkup’s review of care at East Kent NHS Hospitals Trust, Ms Caulfield said “many women, their babies and families were failed in their time of need”.
She added: “I would like to thank the families who have engaged with the investigation. Your willingness to share your experiences, even though those experiences are harrowing for many of you, will support the learning and improvement that can be brought about through these recommendations.
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“I am deeply sorry for the pain you have experienced, and I hope the action being taken because of your participation with the investigations provides some comfort for you in this process.”
Dr Kirkup’s report, published last October, identified a “clear pattern” of “care that was suboptimal and led to significant harm” in East Kent.
It also noted failures to listen to families affected and said the trust had “given the appearance of covering up the scale and systematic nature of those problems”.
East Kent is one of several trusts that have been investigated for poor maternity care in recent years.
Major service failures were also identified at Morcambe Bay, and Shrewsbury and Telford trusts, while a review of hospitals in Nottingham is ongoing.
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Dr Kirkup’s report warned that such cases could no longer be seen as isolated, adding: “If we do not begin to tackle this differently, there will be more.”
He called on the NHS to tackle “deep-rooted problems” with identifying and improving poorly performing units.
Organisations including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives have also been asked by the Government to support its efforts to promote and improve team working in healthcare settings.
Dr Kirkup has been appointed to lead work on ensuring teams in maternity and neonatal care can work together more collaboratively to provide high-quality, compassionate care.
And Ms Caulfield will chair a local forum in East Kent bringing together NHS representatives, the Care Quality Commission and local MPs for updates on the improvements made.
She said: “Every woman deserves to feel confident in the care they and their baby receive.
“This government will continue investing in the maternity workforce and working with the NHS to raise standards.”
Dr Matthew Jolly, national clinical director for maternity and women’s health at NHS England, said: “We welcome the Government’s response to Dr Bill Kirkup’s report – the failings in care for women, babies and their families using East Kent Hospital must not continue to be repeated.
“NHS England has installed an improvement director at the trust alongside a senior advisor… In March, we published a delivery plan for maternity and neonatal care which sets out what the NHS will do over the next three years to make care safer, more personalised and more equitable for all women, babies and families.”
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